We is Got Him by Carrie Hagen
In 1874, a young boy named Charley Ross was snatched from his front yard in Philadelphia. The child’s father received a letter that read: “”Mr. Ross; be not uneasy you son charley bruster be all writ. we is got him and no powers on earth can deliver out of our hand. You wil have two pay us before you git him from us, and pay us a big cent to.” “
Philadelphia had just won the bid to host America’s centennial celebration. The country had survived revolution, civil war, and recession, and city politicians were eager to prove the country had matured enough to survive another hundred years. What they couldn’t foresee was how a child’s kidnapping threatened to unravel social confidence and plunge a city into despair. Hagen expertly weaves this historical narrative as we see Philadelphia’s mayor fight to preserve his city’s stature, and watch the manhunt spread from Philadelphia to the streets of New York. Based on a tremendous amount of research, the author accurately captures the darker side of America—with its corrupt detectives, thief-catchers, spiritualists, and river pirates—as a country in which innocence had become an ideal of the past.
Hagen’s true crime novel, about the first recorded ransom kidnapping in America, was fascinating. Reading through the first few scenes of the book, it’s crazy to imagine a world where parents didn’t have their kids under constant supervision, and seeing strangers talking to children wasn’t worrying, but commonplace. Even kids are much different today; we learn about stranger danger when we’re very little. Charley and Walter Ross knew nothing about it; they willingly got into a strange buggy with two strange men. The police force’s handling of the case was also astonishingly different from today’s kidnapping cases.
While We is Got Him was eye-opening to just how much America has changed, it was also a bit dry in places. Hagen often began talking about the upcoming Centennial or other background events, that, while interesting, weren’t necessary to the story of the kidnapping, or could have been shortened. However, much of her book was told like a regular novel, not a textbook, in that she allowed us to “get to know” the characters and used dramatic irony to her advantage. Although the book rambled on a little, I liked it a lot, and it was very interesting to read about everyday life in such a different time. Anyone interested in crime and its history would love We is Got Him, as would my fellow history buffs.
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